Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Movie Moments: #40

Judgment at Nuremburg (1961)

A great film with an outstanding cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Werner Klemperer, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, William Shatner and Montgomery Clift.  This is a movie about one of the basest periods in human history and raises a basic and fundamental dilemna:  Where does moral accountability stand when a government makes bad laws?

Inspired by the actual Judges/ Trial before the military Tribunal in Nuremburg in 1947, this 1961 movie deals with the trial of the judges who upheld and enforced the sterilisation and cleansing laws of the Nazis. Against a backdrop of the escalating Cold War, the film looks at issues of collective and individual responsibility.

Judge Dan Haywood:
Herr Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he “loathed” the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and death of millions by the government of which he was a part. Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial. If he and the other defendants were all depraved perverts - if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs - these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes.

But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men - even able and extraordinary men - can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilisation of men because of their political beliefs... The murder of children... How “easily” that can happen!

There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the "protection" of the country. Of "survival". The answer to that is: “survival as what”? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world - let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what we stand for: justice, truth... and the value of a single human being!

By the time the film was made, 1961, all of the judges sentenced to imprisonment in the Judges’ Trial had already been released.

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